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Russian Drift from “Near Abroad” to “Far Abroad”: Is There a Panacea for NATO?

Although military threats of conventional nature have diminished to a certain extent after the Cold War, the core objective of collective defense, the primary raison d’état of NATO remains intact. As it is subtly underlined in the “NATO 2030: United for a New Era” report, the longevity and success of the Alliance lies in its ability to adapt to changing strategic circumstances[1]. In addition to many other factors, the rise of the Russian Federation as a rival that is not afraid to undermine confidence in NATO has been a major factor in changing strategic circumstances. The intensified global power competition accompanied with “go-it-alone” nationalisms forms the backbone of this systemic rivalry[2]. This is why it is worthwhile to examine the policy shifts in Russian Grand Strategy and discuss how a persistently aggressive Russia leads to a more demanding strategic environment for NATO. 

Looking retrospectively, it is an undeniable fact that NATO’s success as a political interlocutor has been rooted in its capacity to embody a broad combination of military, social, economic, and political tenets to tackle contemporary security challenges. Now, the inclusion of “strategic simultaneity” and “resilience of Allied nations” in the modus operandi of the Transatlantic Alliance could pave the way for a drift toward Allied preparedness. However, as Fatih Ceylan and Tacan Ildem note, Russia’s hybrid campaign to weaken NATO remains an obstacle to actualize NATO’s post-Cold War ambition to establish “lasting peace and stability from Vancouver to Vladivostok”[3]. Moreover, for Allies, engaging with Russia has not been immune to crises[4]. That is why, a Transatlantic common understanding of the policy shifts in Russian Grand Strategy is essential for maintaining Transatlantic unity and assuring smooth adaptation to changing strategic circumstances. 

Russian Foreign Policy: “Near Abroad” or “Far Abroad”?

As NATO looks to adapt to the emergence of systemic rivalry in international relations, examining if there has been a shift in Russian Grand Strategy, especially in the so-called "Near Abroad" doctrine, could be a critical indicator. In the past, this doctrine was believed to reflect Russia's (re)consolidation of its power in the former Soviet territories; therefore, for policymakers, it meant an acceptance of these territories as Russia's "traditional sphere of influence", sometimes called "Near Abroad." Likewise, articulation of “Near Abroad” is generally associated with the former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s strategic choice to develop Russia into a separate central of power, which promotes a strategic triangle encompassing Russia, China, and India to weaken the NATO Allies[5].

NATO, in fact, is thoroughly diligent in scrutinizing the growing assertiveness of Russian foreign policy. The Transatlantic Alliance’s strategic initiatives such as “NATO Readiness Initiative” prominently demonstrates NATO’s desire to counterbalance the Russian expansion by improving military capabilities, anticipating hybrid threats, and increasing engagement with its Eastern partners[6]. However, policy analyst Hasan Yukselen argues that even though Russia’s strategic ends have not changed overtime, since the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, Russia has been opting to transform the strategic means employed for actualizing those strategic ends. Thereby, the author insists that Russia’s growing assertiveness can be perceived as the “accumulated result” of NATO’s attempts to accelerate enlargement - particularly involving civil society engagement - in Russia’s so-called “Near Abroad”[7]. Russia’s support for paramilitary hybrid warfare on the ground during the illegal annexation of Crimea (in response to NATO - Ukraine Commission’s achievements on security issues of common concern) can be exemplified as a striking evidence of Moscow’s aspirations to diversify Russia’s strategic means[8].

According to Yukselen, the change in Russia’s strategic means has eventually updated Russia’s “geographic reach” as well. Russian involvement in Syria is one of the most remarkable examples showing that Russia is determined to intervene in its “Far Abroad” as well, without hesitating regarding the use of force[9]. In this regard, Moscow considers embracing military activism and insisting on hybrid warfare to deter the Transatlantic Alliance in the “Far Abroad” as a prerequisite for safeguarding its so-called vested interests in the “Near Abroad”.

NATO’s Preparedness in the wake of Russian Ascendancy

NATO’s elevated political role, which was formerly enshrined in the Harmel Report, has allowed the Alliance to perceive NATO’s southern flank with a broader perception[10]. This phenomenon is consistently emphasized in the “NATO 2030: United for a New Era” report: currently, NATO’s “South” does not only refer to the Eastern Mediterranean. What the “South” means for NATO is a broad geographic area, comprising the Middle East and North Africa, extending out to sub-Saharan Africa and Afghanistan. Notably, there is a strong overlap between NATO’s “South” and Russia’s “Far Abroad”, which makes the strategic rivalries imminent and regional fragilities acute.

After the Cold War, one of the gravest challenges that the Transatlantic Alliance encountered was the power vacuum created after the demise of the Soviet Union. Dialogues with Russia and Ukraine, as well as expanding partnerships were NATO's first initiatives for stabilizing the Euro-Atlantic region. Currently, Russian revisionism, which aspires to reassure Russia’s great power status, is still on the agenda of the Alliance. However, internal splits under the guise of “quest for autonomy” and political divergences within NATO are new obstructive phenomena and are yet to be eliminated. The result is unpredictability in transatlantic relations: as a result of "nationalizing" threats and governments turning inward, Allies end up showing reluctance to address common threats with a united response. Moreover, if the current trend continues, some Allies like France and Turkey may make existential choices to consolidate their faith in the Alliance or repudiate their relationship with NATO[11]. In addition to the aforementioned challenges, proliferation of hybrid attacks, Sino-Russian engagement and the increasing focus of United States on the Indo-Pacific have not been intensively addressed yet. 

Increasing the Bargaining Power

Considering the indivisibility of the Euro-Atlantic security, the 360-degree approach to security must become a strategic imperative for NATO and this ought to be regarded as an opportunity. As the NATO Reflection Group continues to note that an updated Strategic Concept is not a panacea but could be a milestone to solidify and reaffirm intra-Alliance commitments.[12] In this vein, the Alliance’s military preparedness for the Southern flank becomes quite prominent: NATO’s 2030 vision, incisively, puts strengthening the Hub for the South at Joint Force Command Naples on the agenda. NATO's increased bargaining power in international relations provides another opportunity to demonstrate Allied solidarity by continuing the dual-track approach of deterrence and dialogue toward Russia without making concessions to Moscow's hostile actions. On the other hand, in response to the Sino-Russian engagement and China’s maritime claims in the Indo-Pacific, NATO’s determination to monitor how Sino-Russian cooperation is developing through a special unit and how it utilizes its partnerships effectively in the region could shape NATO’s future in a favorable way. Most importantly, the resolute commitment of Allies to improving civil preparedness, homeland security, and resilience represents an important opportunity ahead of 2030.


[1] “NATO 2030: United for a New Era.” North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), (25 November 2020),

[2] Wolfgang Ischinger, “COVID-19: Deepening the Fault Lines of Geopolitics.” The World After COVID-19: Cooperation or Competition? (SAM Publications, 2020): p. 79-84.

[3] Fatih Ceylan and Tacan Ildem, “Turkey is Grappling with the Aftershocks of Systemic Rivalry.” German Marshall Fund, (21 October 2021),

[4] Nilsu Goren, “The NATO/US – Turkey – Russia Strategic Triangle: Challenges Ahead.” Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, (2018): p. 4.

[5] Eugene Rumer, “The Primakov (Not Gerasimov) Doctrine in Action.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, (5 June 2019),

[6] “NATO Readiness Initiative: Factsheet.” North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), (June 2018),

[7] Hasan Yukselen, “Russian Grand Strategy: from ‘Near Abroad’ to ‘Far Abroad.’” Foreign Policy Institute, Vol. 35, No. 1 (2018): p. 41.

[8] Paul D’Anieri and Taras Kuzio, “Annexation and Hybrid Warfare in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.” E-International Relations, (25 June 2018),

[9] Hasan Yukselen, “Russian Grand Strategy: from ‘Near Abroad’ to ‘Far Abroad.’” Foreign Policy Institute, Vol. 35, No. 1 (2018): p. 47.

[10] Jamie Shea, “How the Harmel Report Helped Build the Transatlantic Security Framework.” Atlantic Council, (29 January 2018),

[11] Meirowitz, Mark. “Deconstructing the Turkey, US, NATO, Russia Relationship: What Now?” Turkish Policy Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2019): p. 87.

[12] NATO 2030: Factsheet.” North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), (June 2021), Accessed 22 October 2021

Deniz Ünsal
Deniz Ünsal

Deniz Ünsal is a Ph.D. researcher specializing in international law. He is a Jean Monnet Scholar and his areas of interest include EU-Turkey relations and global affairs. He is also an IMF Youth Fellow.


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